A dynamic interview with Martin Zahner, Associate Director of International Affairs at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) and Academic Advisor for students from Brazil, Australia, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the US.
From his experiences in visiting a variety of institutions and cities across the world, as well as personal insights on GEM’s inflow and outflow of students, he builds upon and provides his perspective on the sort of skills that business managers need to be competitive today.
Mr. Zahner begins the interview with a story of his travel to Otago University, one of Grenoble Ecole de Management’s partners. What he noticed on this trip was that the world-famous Chartreuse liqueur, created in Voiron, a nearby town close to Grenoble, was in Dunedin, New Zealand, a thirty-three hour plane ride away. This was part of a 17-day business trip, spanning 60,000 km approximately. Clearly, he has accumulated vast travel experiences through his portfolio at GEM’s Center of International Affairs.
One of the zones that he last visited was of particular interest to him- Brazil. Besides his portfolio of European countries, Australia and New Zealand, and the US, Brazil is a recent addition towards the list. With the coming Olympics in 2016, it is a very lively and dynamic place, and the region is filled with an entrepreneurial spirit, particularly towards enhancing the city of Rio de Janeiro (host of the Olympics). The Olympics will bring people from around the world into the country, and there is significant effort to bring down the level of crime in the favelas rural area of Rio. As Mr. Zahner highlights, this is a culture that is open and friendly towards newcomers, economic development and business opportunities. There is a definite positive attitude towards making an impact. Concerning international projects and initiatives, this would mean a lot more possibilities towards collaborative projects and partnerships.
In working in the International Affairs office, Mr. Zahner has also accumulated a breadth of experience and perspective in working with GEM’s incoming students, and noting different approaches amongst varying cultures, particularly in academic work and completing tasks.
To highlight these differences, he builds on his knowledge of working with German and French students, who will one day head into managerial roles. He believes these differences start with the education system. From the very beginning, German students have been preparing to write their dissertation thesis, since their Bachelor’s degree, and are meticulous about their step-by-step process, he reiterates. French students, on the other hand, are a little less process-driven in their approach towards completing tasks such as essays or reports; nevertheless, they are more open to changing the steps and adapting continuously. In management, this is parallel. French managers tend to respond more rapidly to changing a project structure, while German managers may not be as flexible, as their original project plan may have been considerably more efficient. Another managerial element is how meetings are coordinated in a French working context versus a German one. In German meetings, what is typical is for everyone to come to a meeting prepared with solutions. In a French meeting, what generally happens is a discussion and brainstorming session for potential ideas gearing towards a solution.
However, both styles of management have their advantages and disadvantages, like anything else. Concerning the ideal European business manager, Mr. Zahner states one needs to have both flexibility (French managerial approach) and efficiency (German managerial approach) in their management style to be successful in handling today’s market.